Opening Day 2006!

Pieces of the following article were written by Paul Sporer for Sportsblurb.com and also appear on FOXSports.com

American League

East:

New York Yankees – the lineup they have constructed is simply too amazing to ignore. They still lack a dominant starter as age has met both Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson, but both should be efficient, especially with that kind of run support. It will be interesting to see if Jason Giambi is back to form as his second half indicated last season.

Boston Red Sox – their key off-season acquisition, Josh Beckett, desperately hopes to play an entire season, but until he does, his impact is suspect. Getting Coco Crisp to replace Johnny Damon was a stroke of genius. The defensive unit as a whole has been significantly upgraded. Bullpen issues still linger, but if Jon Papelbon is as good as advertised, then they could be alleviated sooner than later.

Toronto Blue Jays – all that money spent and still little more than a 3rd place finish. A.J. Burnett, an awful signing this off-season, is already injured to the surprise of no one. The team inexplicably assembled a glut of first base-designated hitter types, which may cut into at-bats for some, namely Eric Hinske.

Baltimore Orioles – a growing club that is still a few years away. Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard offer hope for the rotation and youngster Chris Ray gets a full-fledged shot at becoming the closer for years to come. Rookie Nick Markakis has turned heads and will get a fair share of at-bats.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays – plenty of promise in the lineup with much, much more on the way. Also, the Scott Kazmir trade looks better and better every day, but starting guys like Casey Fossum and Doug Waechter is never good.

Central:

Cleveland Indians – need to learn to beat the White Sox to solidify their position atop the division. The lineup is only getting better as Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, and Travis Hafner blossom. Aaron Boone won’t get much of a chance to mess up before giving way to Andy Marte.

Chicago White Sox – still very much a contender with that pitching staff. The offense features two of the game’s premier sluggers with Paul Konerko and Jim Thome. Overall the team played above its head last year meaning a regression is likely.

Detroit Tigers – it’s all about progress for the Tigers. They don’t have the makeup an impact contender, but are good enough to top the .500 mark with a solid lineup and capable rotation. Big seasons from rookies Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya could send the Tigers higher.

Minnesota Twins – tough to go against a team with Johan Santana. The offense just doesn’t have the firepower to be a big time contender in one of baseball’s toughest divisions. From Santana to closer Joe Nathan, the pitching staff is very solid, but Francisco Liriano is the bullpen’s only left-hander.

Kansas City Royals – what can you say about this team that hasn’t already been said? They are awful, there is no doubt about that and thus they will finish last in their division and likely lose over 100 games.

West:

Oakland Athletics – the Moneyballers are back and ready to finally do something of merit in the post-season. The Frank Thomas addition could pay large dividends, while the Milton Bradley assuredly will. Growth from Dan Johnson, a full season from Bobby Crosby, and carryover from a big spring for Eric Chavez will take the offense up. The pitching staff is the league’s best from top to bottom.

Los Angeles Angels – adding J.C. Romero and Jeff Weaver strengthen the staff immensely. There are too many questions in the offense to be considered the favorite including Casey Kotchman in a full-time role, the health of guys like Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, and Tim Salmon, and what can guys like Edgardo Alfonzo, Maicer Izturis, Robb Quinlan, and Juan Rivera do when Chone Figgins isn’t playing their position.

Texas Rangers – adding the earned run average champion is a start. That said, there is no way that Kevin Millwood will come anywhere near defending his crown after moving from Cleveland to Texas. Any questions of contention still focus squarely on the pitching. The offense remains one of the league’s most high-octane ones and add Brad Wilkerson and call-up Ian Kinsler to replace Alfonso Soriano.

Seattle Mariners – with Kansas City’s presence in the Central, this might be baseball’s toughest division. No, the Mariners won’t contend for any length of time, but they have one of the most intriguing stories of the season with 20-year old phenom, Felix Hernandez. Unfortunately, there is a sharp decline and thus despite a decent offense, this team will struggle to reach anything more than 75 wins.

Playoffs:

Oakland def. New York

Los Angeles def. Cleveland

Oakland def. Los Angeles

Oakland wins American League

National League

East:

New York Mets – I don’t care how many division titles the Atlanta Braves have won in a row. Not a single one of them will help them in 2006. The Mets are stacked once again, but for once they are finally starting to build a team instead a collection of high-profile players. Carlos Beltran is primed for a huge bounce back season and David Wright is quickly becoming one of the league’s premier players. Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner anchor the bullpen.

Philadelphia Phillies – I don’t care how many division titles the Atlanta Braves have won in a row. Not a single one of them will help them in 2006. Ryan Howard steps in for Jim Thome and his spring is suggesting that he is just fine with that tall order. This team’s fate will hang on its pitching staff and whether or not the aged bullpen that includes three players with 15 or more years of experience can hold up.

Atlanta Braves – I don’t care how many division titles the Atlanta Braves have won in a row. Not a single one of them will help them in 2006. It is not so much Leo Mazzone’s departure as it is the overall uncertainty that looms over the pitching staff. Tim Hudson and John Smoltz are the only proven quality amongst the group. The closer situation remains a headache as well. Andruw Jones will not hit 51 home runs again, but he will hit 30 and the offense can score runs at a reliable clip.

Washington Nationals – I don’t care how… wait a minute that is totally irrelevant here. After a surprising effort in their debut season, the Nationals simply don’t have the talent to compete in the National League East. Jose Guillen’s power could suffer from lingering wrist problems. What is up with Nick Johnson’s mustache???

Florida Marlins – the dubious distinction of being the Kansas City Royals of the National League. Thus, what can you say about this team that hasn’t already been said? They are awful, there is no doubt about that and thus they will finish last in their division and likely lose over 100 games.

Central:

St. Louis Cardinals – the division’s best team, not that that is tough. The fifth starter rotation is unsettling with Sidney Ponson and the team isn’t as deep as last season’s. Scott Rolen’s return from an injury-riddled 2005 will be key to their overall success.

Houston Astros – whether or not Roger Clemens returns, they can take second in the division. That said, I suspect he will return in May and lead a rotation that features three aces with he, Andy Pettitte, and Roy Oswalt. Scoring remains a problem, but a full season from Lance Berkman and if Preston Wilson can do something outside of Coors, they would be all right.

Milwaukee Brewers – a team on the rise for several years continues to grow. Their success will hinge largely on the production from youngsters Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, and Rickie Weeks. Despite a career-high of 32 home runs, the team expects more production from star outfielder Carlos Lee.

Chicago Cubs – it is the same two pitching questions again this year. If Mark Prior and Kerry Wood exhibit anything resembling health, this team’s potential is as high as winning the division. Carlos Zambrano is a solid anchor, but without Prior and Wood, this staff is downright mediocre at best. Juan Pierre will be a catalyst for the offense that includes top power from Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

Pittsburgh Pirates – too young to be a force, but talented nonetheless. A trio of young upstarts with Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, and Ian Snell join Oliver Perez to form a solid rotation in Pittsburgh. Perez, however, desperately aims to rebound from an absolutely horrid 2005.

Cincinnati Reds – with Griffey seemingly back, this offense can score. But they still have Eric Milton with a prominent role in the rotation. Enough said.

West:

Los Angeles Dodgers – this prediction relies heavily on health issues. J.D. Drew, Eric Gagne, Nomar Garciaparra, Brad Penny, and Odalis Perez need to register full seasons for the Dodgers to compete. Additions of Rafael Furcal and Bill Mueller makes for a solid left side of the infield.

San Francisco Giants – if “he” plays over 125 games, they will compete because of the effect “he” can have on an entire lineup. Jason Schmidt, Noah Lowry, and Matt Cain produce a formidable top of the rotation. Age is a huge factor with 13 guys logging 10+ years of experience, six of which have 15+ years.

San Diego Padres – backed into a division title last year. They won’t be as lucky this year. High hopes for Chris Young to be the number two to Jake Peavy are in order, but even that won’t be enough for this offensively starved team. If Termel Sledge gets the at-bats, he can hit upwards of 20 home runs.

Colorado Rockies – same old story with the Rockies. Per usual, the Rockies will be able to put up runs, both in and out of Coors. Todd Helton had a down year and still managed a .979 OPS. Youngsters like Matt Holliday, Clint Barmes, and Brad Hawpe will benefit greatly from their home field allowing the team to score with just about any team. The pitching is once again the story and it remains a sad one. Despite the promise shown by the likes of Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis, they will never amount to more than average-to-below average pitchers while pitching in that park.

Arizona Diamondbacks – one of the most exciting, young teams in all of baseball. However, outside of Brandon Webb, the pitching staff is best described as awful. A lackluster outfield that features Eric Byrnes, Luis Gonzalez, and Shawn Green could see super-prospect Chris Young called up sooner than later. Prospects Stephen Drew and Justin Upton rate among the top five in all of baseball in many circles.

Playoffs:

Philadelphia def. St. Louis

New York def. Los Angeles

New York def. Philadelphia

New York wins National League

World Series:

Oakland def. New York

Oakland Wins World Series

 

 

Awards –
American League:

MVP – Eric Chavez

ROY – Kenji Jojima

Cy Young– Kelvim Escobar

National League:

MVP – Carlos Beltran

ROY – Josh Barfield

Cy Young – Brandon Webb

 

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